Saturday, March 10, 2007

BBC NEWS | Technology | The ethical dilemmas of robotics

BBC NEWS | Technology | The ethical dilemmas of robotics

If robots can feel pain, should they be granted certain rights? If robots develop emotions, as some experts think they will, should they be allowed to marry humans? Should they be allowed to own property?

These questions might sound far-fetched, but debates over animal rights would have seemed equally far-fetched to many people just a few decades ago. Now, however, such questions are part of mainstream public debate.

And the technology is progressing so fast that it is probably wise to start addressing the issues now.

One area of robotics that raises some difficult ethical questions, and which is already developing rapidly, is the field of emotional robotics.
More pressing moral questions are already being raised by the increasing use of robots in the military

This is the attempt to endow robots with the ability to recognise human expressions of emotion, and to engage in behaviour that humans readily perceive as emotional. Humanoid heads with expressive features have become alarmingly lifelike.

David Hanson, an American scientist who once worked for Disney, has developed a novel form of artificial skin that bunches and wrinkles just like human skin, and the robot heads he covers in this can smile, frown, and grimace in very human-like ways.

These robots are specifically designed to encourage human beings to form emotional attachments to them. From a commercial point of view, this is a perfectly legitimate way of increasing sales. But the ethics of robot-human interaction are more murky.

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